When one looks at the many changes wrought by the industrial revolution, the working conditions of those in the newly industrialized industries are always a central focus. The new paradigm of the factory system changed more than simply how people worked, it changed their very sense of identity. It gave them a class-consciousness that would later help stimulate the rise of both democracy and communism.
Disregarding for the moment, however, the future societal consequences of this newfound class-consciousness, and looking at the revolution solely from the perspective of an industrial worker, it is easy to questions the benefits of this revolution. Working conditions were often so grueling and fraught with real danger in the early decades of industrialization that one is justified in wondering if industrialization was actually beneficial - at least for the first few generations of workers that experienced it (Misa, 2011, p. 90). Perhaps they would have been better off had the Agricultural Revolution never given way to the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, working conditions of industrial workers in Europe was such that some slaves in the American South seem to have been better off.
Comparing the daily lives of Industrial workers and Slaves is actually quite fascinating. Looking at two documents from that era Plantation Management, a set of rules for the direction of overseers written by a wealthy plantation owner, and Factory Rules, an early type of employee’s handbook, we can see many similarities in the schedule and management of industrial workers and slaves. Both had to adhere to a strict schedule. Rising early in the morning and working until late in the night (Factory Rules in Berlin 1844). Both worked in groups under the direct supervision of an overseer or supervisor (Factory Rules in Berlin 1844). Both slaves and factory workers are renowned for the mundane and menial nature of their tasks. More importantly, while Industrial workers at the time had little to no societal safety net and no insurance, slaves might well be taken care of if ill or injured (Plantation Management).
In American, work under the Slater’s system of manufacturing in particular had many aspects that resembled slavery. Whole families would work for a company, often a mill, living in a house rented from the company. Often they were required to attend church services and only buy food only from the company store (Cowan, 1997, pp. 85-86).
In truth however, these similarities speak more to the...